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The Government Must Prosecute the Oregon Protestors

3 minute read
Heidi Beirich leads the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.

With the arrests of the leaders of the occupation of Malheur National Refuge Tuesday, the federal government finally began to enforce the rule of law.

During a traffic stop that unfortunately turned violent, leaving one person dead, the FBI and Oregon State Police arrested eight people, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Cliven Bundy. Three more members surrendered to authorities Wednesday.

It was the Bundy family standoff in Bunkerville, Nev., in 2014—a standoff that threatened violence at every turn—that breathed new life into the antigovernment movement. Despite federal authorities promising justice would be served after law enforcement was run off at the point of a gun, no arrests were ever made.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center documented in a report published after the standoff, federal inaction allowed the ideas that inspired Cliven Bundy to spread across the West. In the days after the Bundy family protest, in fact, longtime militia leader Mike Vanderboegh said: “Courage is contagious.”

Sadly, that courage did turn into a contagion as increasing numbers of antigovernment extremists centered their anger on the federal government’s administration of public lands. They took to flouting the rule of law wherever they could. In Utah, the Bundy family inspired extremists to ride ATVs into a canyon that had been closed to protect an archaeological dig. To the extremists, their ride was a statement of liberty. To others, it was an example of lawlessness. Similar disputes arose in Texas and at an Oregon mine. Most recently, again in Oregon, antigovernment militia members stormed the refuge and took control by force of arms.

For three weeks, as the federal government carried out a “deliberate and measured” response, domestic terrorists and false Patriots subjected the citizens of Harney County, Ore., to fear and worry as more extremists rushed to help the Bundys in their brewing fight with the federal government—a fight that could have ended long ago.

As Harney County Sheriff David Ward said during a news conference on Wednesday: “This cannot happen anymore. This cannot happen in America, and this cannot happen in Harney County.”

Sheriff’s Ward’s comments are heartening. Antigovernment extremists who believe violence is the way to settle disputes are finally being held to account. It is critical that the federal government prosecute those involved in the Oregon standoff so that this movement understands that there is a price to be paid for reckless and unlawful behavior. Hopefully, a peaceful conclusion will be achieved.

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